By Abhimannu Das
With a rapid increase in the amount of elephant and rhino poaching in various countries, many groups concerned with conservation have been using aerial vehicles and drones to catch poachers red-handed in forests and jungles. The initiation had taken place after the World Wildlife Fund decided to deploy the usage of surveillance drones to protect various species after the South African Government had reported 82 poaching incidents concerning rhinos in the first two months of 2013 alongside a shocking report of 668 such incidents in 2012, drones were employed by the end of 2013 in both Asia and Africa, with expenses of over 5 million dollars’ worth of technology to fight against the illegal wildlife business which is supposedly worth billions of dollars. They are being heavily used in places like Sumatra which is concerned with orangutan conservation and Japan where whaling fleets are existent. Kenya received crowd-funded investments to protect Rhinos in Kenya’s Laikpia district. The funding to Google was provided to WWF by Google.
The rush in deploying all the drones and other surveillance technology are considered to be influences arising out of the long lasting conflicts between the conservationists and the poachers. However the usage of such technology can cause a lot of problems and only the conservation law enforcers can make things worse. The reality is very twisted and there is a common belief in the areas of conservation that the conservationists care less about the people living there and more about the animals which can make things worse and cause even more conflicts. Thus, using drones and surveillance equipment has reduced the support of the common folk towards the conservationists.
Conservationists believe that their organizations can properly use the technology only with the support of the locals and they need to spend time with them to resolve all the issues transpiring between them with regard to access to grazing with livestock and cutting of wood for fuel. They have already spent years and need to spend even more time now.
Where tensions between locals are already high, support has been declining with the notion of the locals with regard to technology as being sinister and are being associated with weapons and warfare leading to civilian casualties because of the risk from violence of poachers. The local communities feel the conservationists are nothing but terrorists.
Many conservationists may argue that the decline in the level of support from local communities is just a price involved in conservation of animals but things go deeper than that and the value of drones in prevention of poaching itself is under scrutiny – are they really any good? There are more than just one reason that conservationists are being questioned regarding use of surveillance equipment. One glaring issues is that the remote surveillance equipment have never been used before and has no data on effectiveness whatsoever. Also, this approach requires manpower in the form of patrol guards who need to be in close vicinity of the equipment to catch the poachers but in most underdeveloped countries such patrolmen are highly under-paid and resource-less. Immediate action cannot be taken against the poachers if patrolmen aren’t present and they can escape. There are also loopholes in the system, if they are not policed properly corrupt officials can help poachers and convicts escape by manipulation. Another glaring issue is that there is no judicial system with respect to usage of drones for catching criminals and it needs to be sorted out as soon as possible.
It is not that technology and conservation cannot coexist, and drones and technology traps are more important than ever before to monitor conservation and statistical counting purposes. These technologies have been highly effective but they need to be carefully used so that people don’t feel spied upon and claim that their privacy is being encroached upon. The technology has been highly effective in counting orang-utans on the top of trees and counting tigers in distant rain-forests. It is only suggested that technology be used in tried and tested methods which have been successful in the past instead of going for more glamorous methods and ones which require less amounts of resources, man power and networking to catch poachers and identifying corruption in the systems alongside strengthening of the judiciaries with respect to ecological and wildlife conservation. Conservationists are frustrated at the lack of results despite risking their lives and spending all of their lived dedicated to wildlife protection and are seeking to resort to such equipment but it should not come at the cost of spoiling relationships with local communities and being thought of as self-centered people looking for quick fixes. With rising concerns about privacy, the local people could alienate themselves from the conservationists if tensions keep rising.
The equipment should be used legally and ethically without any encroachment whatsoever and a better thought of projects should be considered instead of rushed-through reckless decisions which may destroy the long term relationships and links in conservation efforts.